- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2008

Moves by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in the past year to abruptly end the careers of four top officers will leave the next president with some of the same senior military leaders who advised President Bush on the Iraq war.

Several key positions, including chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were due for a new general or admiral in 2009.

However, because Mr. Gates replaced four four-star officers, the incoming group of top officers will have years left on their tours when the next president takes charge in January.

For Sen. John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, holdover generals might not be a problem. He screened all current senior officers from his post on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But for Sen. Barack Obama, who has lambasted Mr. Bush’s war policies and has run on a campaign theme of “change,” the comfort level with his inherited Joint Chiefs of Staff and field commanders might not be as high.

Should he win, the presumed Democratic nominee will work with officers nurtured and hand-picked by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, a frequent target of Democrats.

Charles Krohn, former deputy chief of Army public affairs and the author of a book on the Vietnam War, said the next president is not out of options.

“There is no reason for keeping people in office in the short term who don’t have his confidence,” Mr. Krohn said. “Obama would have that option to put in his own team.”

Nor should Mr. Gates worry about limiting a next president’s personnel moves.

“Put yourself in Gates’ position,” Mr. Krohn said. “He is firing people for malfeasance. It would be malfeasant on his part if he kept people on just so the next administration would have more choices.”

Lawrence Korb, an analyst at the Center for American Progress and an Obama campaign adviser on national security, does not think his candidate would be boxed in.

“Military people serve the country and the Constitution rather than a particular administration,” said Mr. Korb, who wrote a history in 1976 of the first 25 years of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We shouldn’t be changing service chiefs when you come in. You want continuity.”

What’s more, Congress has written the law to give a president flexibility as the nation’s commander in chief.

He can fire the Joint Chiefs chairman during his first six months in office. And the fact the chairman serves “two-plus-two” terms, as opposed to one four-year stint, as the service chiefs do, means the next president could decline to renominate Adm. Michael G. Mullen as chairman in the fall of 2009.

“They wrote that because the chairman and the president should have a good working relationship,” Mr. Korb said.

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